tyler kohlhoff

A decade after its release, Blitzen Trapper’s breakthrough LP Furr plays like an artifact from the lost (and perhaps mythological) city of “Old Portland.” It’s ironic how the album’s cover depicts the band’s name carved into a tree trunk—like they always knew it’d eventually preserve the memory of a bygone era.

“When we first started touring, people wouldn’t even know where Portland was half the time, or even where Oregon was,” frontman Eric Earley explains from a ferry on the way to Victoria, BC, the first stop of the band’s fall tour in support of Furr’s 10th anniversary reissue. “It used to be a much stranger place. You just didn’t know what you were going to come upon.”

That unknown mystery—of whatever’s lurking out there in the dark, foggy backwoods, at society’s peripheries, or in the afterlife—fuels Earley’s fantastical visions, which are frequently populated by dragons, demons, wizards, wolf-men, and masked monkeys. Throughout Furr, these woodland fairytales collide with Christianity’s moral binaries: god and the devil, good and evil, right and wrong. The best example can be found on the record’s title track—a lo-fi folk song that sounds like it was recorded beside the crackling embers of a campfire, where the narrator is forced to choose between the comfort of civilization and running wild with a pack of wolves.

After releasing three albums on their own label, the band—Earley, Michael Van Pelt (bass), Brian Adrian Koch (drums, vocals), Erik Menteer (guitar, Moog), Marty Marquis (guitar, vocals, melodica), and Drew Laughery (keyboards)—signed with Sub Pop Records to release Furr. Although rootsy songs like the title track and “Lady on the Water” conjure images of gravel roads, dense forests, murky rivers, and meadows overgrown with wildflowers, the album also includes some unexpected funk (“Saturday Nite”), scorched-earth indie rock (“Love U”), sunbeam psychedelia (“God & Suicide”), and mournful country (“Stolen Shoes & a Rifle”).

But “Black River Killer” is still Furr’s standout. Sung from the perspective of a serial killer slashing his way up the West Coast, the band updates the Neil Young-style murder ballad with an eerie synth line and lyrics that reflect on humanity’s complicated relationship with violence. (Incidentally, audiences at Blitzen Trapper’s hometown shows often cheer when he reaches Oregon.)

Furr’s new reissue includes 10 extra tracks—live recordings, unreleased songs, and Record Store Day singles—and a handful of those are so good, it’s a wonder they didn’t make the original cut. “Booksmart Baby” and “Hard Heart” are easily some of the prettiest, tenderest songs Blitzen Trapper has ever released, while “War Is Placebo” captures the unique Furr sound with its interplay between synth and pedal steel.

“There’s a handful of songs we’ve played a lot over the years, and there’s a handful we haven’t played since 2008,” Earley says. “We’ve been trying to get our arrangements back to what the original recordings were like. It’s kind of cool to look into my own past and see what I was doing and try to redo it.” 

Portland’s shed its old skin and transformed over the past 10 years, for better or worse, with “more people, more traffic, and more money,” as Earley puts it. But Furr remains an iconic Pacific Northwest record—one that will endure, even as the scenery continues to change.